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SOME PLANTINGS WILL MAKE HUNGRY DEER SAY 'YUCK!'

Legend has it that the allium plant is good luck and protection against demons.

I don't know about the "good luck," but professional gardeners seem to agree that it is protection against hungry deer.

Like daffodils and narcissi, which most gardeners have learned deer do not like, deer will bypass the allium, along with several other bulbs and plants they don't find appetizing.

So, instead of ripping out the spring garden, try planting some of these bulbs that "professional gardeners and growers, over the years, have observed are not the food of first choice for deer," said Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Center in Brooklyn. "As a matter of fact," Ferguson added, "most are also unappealing to squirrels and other pests."

Another advantage of these bulbs, according to Ferguson, is that "many naturalize to come back year after year in peak form, often spreading."

Please note that the popular tulip in not on the list. Squirrels like to dig up those bulbs; deer will devour the shoots as soon as they begin to appear in the spring and if anything is left, the rabbits will finish them off.

At the top of Ferguson's planting list (and not just because it starts with "A") is allium, commonly known as a "flowering onion." It comes in a variety of sizes and colors, is a perennial and will self-seed. There are cultivars that flower in early spring, midspring, late spring and early summer. They all have long blooming periods, and from experience in my garden, I cannot recommend them too highly regardless of whether you have a deer problem or not.

They will grow in the sun or the shade. For a real focal point, plant a couple of the monstrously magnificent "A giganteum," which can grow to a height of more than five feet with a ball-shaped bloom that has a diameter of eight inches.

Ferguson suggests the "giganteum" be surrounded by "allium spharocephalon, better known as "drumstick' alliums that have much smaller reddish-purple fuzz balls atop slender 24-inch stems."

A flower that signals the beginning of spring for Western New York also makes the list - Galanthus nivalis, better known as the snowdrop.

Galanthus have 10-inch stems topped by dainty white flowers with a green spot at the apex of each petal and "look best naturalized in clusters in a lawn or woodland," Ferguson said.

"They flower so early that lawn plantings are not an issue," she pointed out. "It's too early to mow as the grass is generally still dormant, so the Galanthus can easily be left to die back for six weeks. The plants need that die-back time to recharge their stored energy for next year's bloom season."

In a garden bed, plant "Scilla Siberica," whose cobalt blue, bell-shaped flowers will bloom profusely in March and April.

A great choice for planting under trees and shrubs, Ferguson said, "is Puschkinia libanotica, which grows only six inches tall and has white flowers striped with shadings of grayish-blue."

If the snow melts because of the protection from the tree or shrub, the flowers can appear as early as February and continue blooming through April.

Another March-to-April bloomer is the "Anemone blanda," also known as Grecian windflower. These are definitely a front-of-the border perennial, with low-growing (six inches) and long-lasting, daisy-like flowers that come in white, pink or purplish-blue.

Ferguson said: "They can be planted in single-color blocks for waves of unbroken color or select mixed color packages for a crazy quilt look. Planted en masse, they make a fabulous ground cover and are equally at home in the rock garden. Another excellent use is as the "lower level' in double-decker plantings where the anemone's flowers add a colorful touch beneath taller daffodils or tulips."

Anemones like full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Just be sure they are planted in a well-drained spot.

Another "lower-level" plant is "Muscari armeniacum," or grape hyacinth. This cultivar is considered the all-star performer on the Muscari family, producing long-lasting, brilliant blue flowers from April through May.

Ferguson encourages gardeners "to plant these little (4 to 8 inches tall) bulbs close together in mass plantings in the lawn or garden or beneath daffodils and tulips."

Karen Jescavage-Bernard, of Croton-on-Hudson, where she manages the Jane E. Lytle Memorial Arboretum and where deer thrive, has some other suggestions for later-blooming plants that can be planted now.

These include foxglove and poppies that will bloom in early summer and for later in the growing season, nasturtium, pinks, carnations, sweet William and soapwort.

The bottom line seems to be that flower gardens can be grown in Western New York despite the growing population of deer.

Digest this fact: Surveys estimate the current national total deer population at approximately 30 million, as compared to about 12 million a decade ago.

Odds are that all gardeners in deer country will have to learn how to live with them if their gardens are going to survive. So, one more list, some plants to avoid: daylily, hosta, impatiens, pansy, rhododendron, lily, ilex and tulips.

Bulb planting

When you plant some of the bulbs discussed today - or any other bulbs - here are a few things to remember:

the summer and needs the whole season's sun to synthesize energy.

directly in the hole where the bulb is, though, because the fertilizer may burn tender young roots.

E-mail apalazzetti@buffnews.com

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